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Van Hollen: Despite Outside Spending, Democrats Will Hold House

At times during his breakfast question-and-answer session Thursday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) seemed to be laying the groundwork for explaining a GOP wave on Election Day.

Not that Van Hollen admitted that Democrats would lose the House in 12 days. At the Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Van Hollen repeatedly stated his belief that Democrats would retain the majority in the next Congress.

But the man who carries perhaps the biggest burden of maintaining the House majority repeatedly bemoaned the amount of influence that well-financed conservative third-party groups have had on the 2010 election cycle.

Van Hollen estimated that Republican special interest groups are outspending Democratic third-party groups 5-to-1.

“The fact of the matter is you’re seeing a huge amount of secret money coming down on the Republican side,” he said.

In the face of that spending, Van Hollen said his committee is doing “the best we can.”

“I’m confident the day after the election, we at the DCCC will be able to say we did everything possible to hold on to the majority,” he said before quickly adding, “and we will have the majority.”

Van Hollen’s comments were certainly not the first time Democrats have made an issue of undisclosed corporate cash being spent on the elections after the Supreme Court struck down restrictions on such spending in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

But he also acknowledged that in what was already expected to be a tough cycle for Democrats, conservative third-party groups have been able to expand the playing field in unexpected ways.

“What has obviously shuffled the deck in some of these districts is the outside money that has poured in,” he said. “When one of these third parties parachutes in from outside the district, it obviously changes the dynamics in the race.”

Van Hollen said outside money is the reason once-safe Democrats such as Reps. Phil Hare (Ill.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Bruce Braley (Iowa) have found themselves in races that are more competitive than expected.

While the White House has recently blamed business groups for using foreign money to finance television ads this year, Van Hollen was careful not to echo that explosive charge and instead seemed to indicate that the outside money was homegrown.

“In the last 20 months, very powerful special interests in this country have seen their power diminish. They’ve had their wings clipped a little bit and they are fighting back,” he said. “They are out to buy a Congress that will do their bidding and the stakes are very high.”

Van Hollen added that Republican efforts this year to block the DISCLOSE Act, which would require the disclosure of contributions made for political purposes, is something that could have far-reaching effects on elections for years to come.

“I think it was a failure for the country. I think it was a failure for American democracy. I think this is going to change politics for the worse for a long time to come,” he said.